Friday, March 15, 2019

Taking Advantage of the Sunshine

As spring looms on the horizon—and with it the promise of warmer, sunshine-y days—AmeriCorps Volunteer Program Educator Mandi Johnson and I took advantage of the balmy weather last Sunday to get outside (and get some work done, too!).

Since October, Mandi, Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson, and a crew of our awesome volunteers have been hard at work coordinating the recovery, decomposition, and skeletal preservation of the northern elephant seal found washed up on Marrowstone Island last Halloween. You can learn more about the recovery process in Mandi’s blog posts here and here.

Five months later, some of the bones are ready to begin the final process of drying out and whitening (to make them more appealing for display). To do this, the bones need open air and sunshine—and a few hours of cooperative weather. Sunday afternoon looked like it was going to provide that opportunity. So, Mandi and I went out to the field in front of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center Museum, armed with a plastic tarp and a bucket full of seal bones.

Letting the bones soak up the sun is a great way to get  the moisture out of the bones after the decomposition
process. (Check out the size of the stubby rib in the center  of the picture!)

Sunning the bones ended up being a fantastic way to talk to other Fort Worden visitors who were also taking advantage of the weather. Lots of people stopped by to ask about the bones, and their curiosity led to some great discussions about the role these collections can play both in education and future scientific research.

It’s exciting to think about the learning opportunities these bones will continue to provide in the months and years to come. For now, I’ll have to be satisfied knowing more than a few people were shocked to see that a 14-foot-long animal could have stubby ribs shorter than the length of my hand (indicative of the impressively thick blubber layer these animals build up throughout their lives). At least one young visitor was surprised to see that the elephant seal’s humerus was probably shorter than her own!

The seal bones weren't the only ones enjoying the sunshine. 

Mandi and I eventually decided to wrap up Sunday’s sunning session as the light started to fade and the winds began to pick up. As we packed the bones away again—waiting for the next few sunny hours—it was pretty incredible to reflect on how far the cleaning process has progressed since Mandi, AmeriCorps Marine Exhibit Educator Marley Loomis, AmeriCorps Citizen Science Educator Michael Siddel, and I first responded to the elephant seal stranding call all those months ago.

And it turns out that—just like an elephant seal rib—sometimes a few hours in the sunshine does an AmeriCorps good, too.


Written by AmeriCorps Natural History Educator Ellie Kravets

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